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Realizing Greater Britain

The South African Constabulary and the Imperial Imposition of the Modern State, 1900−1914


Scott C. Spencer

In anticipation of victory over the two Boer republics in the South African War (1899–1902), British imperial policymakers formed the South African Constabulary (SAC, 1900–1908) to lead reconstruction efforts. Uniquely, policymakers injected two goals of imperial management into the force and its 10,000 men, recruited from the British Isles and settler colonies: integrate the conquered territories into the British Empire and foster an imperial-national adherence to a Greater Britain. Following the war, offi cers and constables attracted the Boers to the empire by suppressing Africans more thoroughly, consistently and systematically than their prior regimes ever had. While some SAC men remained in South Africa following their service, most carried their enhanced white, imperial-national allegiances to the Isles, empire and beyond.

Combining traditional archival with innovative digital research, this book narrates global integration and imperial governance through individuals, from Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and imperialist Alfred Milner to Canadian Mountie Sam Steele, Irish doctor Edward Garraway and, foremost, thousands of SAC men. The author argues that opportunistic British agents carried the apparatus of the coercive, legible and bureaucratic modern state across the British Isles, the empire and the world, leaving challenging legacies for successor governments and former subjects to confront.

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Chapter 7 Dispersing Across the World, 1902–1914


Chapter 7

Dispersing Across the World, 1902–1914

Two separate Police Forces are in course of formation for the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and the present administration of the South African Constabulary will cease on the 2nd June.

The life of the Force has been brief, not extending over eight years; but its record is a record of unstained honour and public utility, and its fame will long remain in South Africa.

In every district of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony where I have travelled I have found the Officers and Men of the South African Constabulary doing their duty fearlessly and with signal zeal for the public interest. They have endeavoured constantly and in all circumstances faithfully to serve the Governments of the Transvaal and of the Orange River Colony, and to act as the sympathetic friends of the farmers and other members of the public. Their efforts have not been in vain, and the wonderful recuperation of the country since the war is in no small measure due to their devoted service. My responsibility for the Force has been a constant source of pride and satisfaction to me, and my last message to the Officers and Men is to wish them God-speed throughout their future lives. I thank them, in the name of the King, for what they have done.1

— South African High Commissioner Lord Selborne, 1 June 1908

On the morning...

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